Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) was discovered in 1956 and has since been recognized as one of the most common causes of childhood illness. It causes annual outbreaks of respiratory illnesses in all age groups. In most regions of the United States, RSV usually circulates during fall, winter, and spring, but the timing and severity of RSV season in a given community can vary from year to year. Almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday. People infected with RSV usually show symptoms within 4 to 6 days after getting infected.
Family case management along with Healthy Families America staff at Bond County Health Department would like to advise parents about RSV symptoms, transmission, and prevention.
Symptoms of RSV infection usually include runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing. These symptoms usually appear in stages and not all at once. In very young infants with RSV, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties. RSV can also cause more severe infections such as bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the small airways in the lung, and pneumonia, an infection of the lungs.
RSV can spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You can get infected if you get droplets from the cough or sneeze in your eyes, nose, or mouth, or if you touch a surface that has the virus on it, like a doorknob, and then touch your face before washing your hands. Additionally, it can spread through direct contact with the virus, like kissing the face of a child with RSV.
People infected with RSV are usually contagious for 3 to 8 days. However, some infants, and people with weakened immune systems, can continue to spread the virus even after they stop showing symptoms, for as long as 4 weeks. Children are often exposed to and infected with RSV outside the home, such as in school or child-care centers. RSV can survive for many hours on hard surfaces such as tables and crib rails. It typically lives on soft surfaces such as tissues and hands for shorter amounts of time.
Luckily, most RSV infections go away on their own in a week or two without hospitalization. Unfortunately, since RSV is a virus there is no specific treatment for RSV infection. You can manage fever and pain with over-the-counter fever reducers and pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Talk to your healthcare provider before giving your child nonprescription cold medicines, since some medicines contain ingredients that are not recommended for children. It is important for people with RSV infection to drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration (loss of body fluids). Some people with RSV infection, especially infants younger than 6 months of age and older adults, may need to be hospitalized if they are having trouble breathing or are dehydrated. In most of these cases, hospitalization only lasts a few days.
There are steps you can take to help prevent the spread of RSV. Specifically, if you have cold-like symptoms you should
Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your hands
Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds
Avoid close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils, with others
Clean contaminated surfaces (such as doorknobs and shopping cart handles) may help stop the spread of RSV.
Refrain from kissing high-risk children
Should not interact with children at high risk for severe RSV disease, including premature infants, children younger than 2 years of age with chronic lung or heart conditions, and children with weakened immune systems.
Parents of children at high risk for developing severe RSV disease should help their child, when possible, do the following:
Avoid close contact with sick people
Wash their hands often with soap and water
Avoid touching their face with unwashed hands
Limit the time they spend in child-care centers or other potentially contagious settings, especially during fall, winter, and spring. This may help prevent infection and spread of the virus during the RSV season.
For more information regarding Healthy Families America or Family Case Management, please call Bond County Health Department at 618-664-5020. They can help families deal with the challenges of caring for a baby by supporting a relationship that promotes healthy child development, strengthens the parent-child relationship, and assists mothers and fathers to become the best parents possible.